Tag Archives: Hidden London

55 Broadway – London Underground’s Modernist Head Office

I have been on the majority of the London Transport Museum’s Hidden London tours, but until a couple of weeks ago had not been on the tour of 55 Broadway. Built in 1929 as the head office of the Underground Group, 55 Broadway continues to serve this role through the descendants of the original company, London Transport and Transport for London.

55 Broadway is reached from Westminster by walking up Tothill Street to where Broadway divides past the building, which is also above St. James’s Park underground station. Despite being almost 90 years old, 55 Broadway is still a very impressive building.

55 Broadway

In the first decades of the 20th century, the London Underground was expanding rapidly and the company needed a headquarters building that suited a forward looking and innovative company. The architecturally overly decorative and fussy buildings of the 19th and early 20th centuries did not meet the aspirations of those running the Underground Company, the Chairman of the Board, Lord Ashfield and Frank Pick the Managing Director (although these aspirations did not include moving away from the hierarchical structure of the company as will be seen when touring the building).

The modernist architect Charles Holden had already worked with the Underground Company and was commissioned to work with Ashfield and Pick on the design for 55 Broadway.

The site for the new building was a rather complex shape and had to accommodate the underground station and the station entrance at ground level.

Holden designed the main building in the shape of a crucifix with the longest wing leading back from where Broadway met Tothiil Street to provide the imposing view seen above when walking from Westminster.

The crucifix shape of the building also makes best use of natural light within the building with all the offices being close to large windows, made possible as the external walls are not load bearing as the building uses a structural steel frame for support.

Just above the main entrance facing Tothil Street is the name of the building, the station and between these is the Royal Institute of British Architects, London Architecture Medal for 1929, the year the building was completed.

55 Broadway

In the following photo from the Britain from Above website, 55 Broadway can be seen slightly above and right the centre of the photo. The crucifix shape of the building is clear in an aerial view. The photo is from 1928 and whilst the main body of the building is complete, the steel frame for the central tower shows that this part was still awaiting completion.

55 Broadway

The large windows can be clearly seen in this view looking towards the centre of the building with two of the wings of the crucifix shape and the central tower. Note also just over half way up, the buttress between the two wings to provide additional structural strength by tying these two wings together.

55 Broadway

Although the building was intended to be of a modernist design and not to be covered with the decorative features so common in buildings of the previous century, Holden and Pick did want the building to create a visual impact and therefore commissioned a number of modernist sculptors to provide a small number of sculptures for the building which would complement rather than overwhelm the design of the building.

On the two main sides of the building are statues by Jacob Epstein. These were highly controversial at the time and divided opinion among the public and art critics.

The statue in the photo below was the first of the pair to be finished and is titled “Night”.

55 Broadway

The following extract from the Illustrated London News on the 1st June 1929 is typical of newspaper reporting of the statues:

“THE MUCH-DISCUSSED EPSTEIN STATUARY ON A NEW LONDON BUILDING; ‘NIGHT’ – A GROUP WHICH THE SCULPTOR HIMSELF DESCRIBES AS ‘AN EMBODIMENT OF THOUGHT IN PLASTIC FORM’. Mr Jacob Epstein has again provided London with a public work in sculpture that has aroused a storm of aesthetic controversy. ‘Night’ is the first finished of the two companion groups (the other being ‘Day’) executed for the new Underground Railways Building over St. James’s Park Station. It is about 9ft high, and represents a mother (called by the sculptor a ‘Madonna’) soothing a child to sleep. While some critics hail it as his finest work, others denounce it as repellent, formless, and distorted. Mr Epstein himself is reported to have said: ‘Sculpture can only live as long as it is the embodiment of thought in plastic form….I do not distort the human form more than is necessary to force my main idea. All the greatest sculptors of the world have modified nature to suit the purpose of the subject – Michelangelo especially. The sculptor must understand anatomy from A to Z; but he is not a surgeon – he is an artist.”

The unveiling of “Day” continued the controversy with campaigns for the two statues to be removed, however Epstein robustly defended his work. In a newspaper article titled “Epstein Defends His Night” he wrote:

“If the man in the street does not like the look of my ‘Night’ on his daily way to work he can always avert his eyes from it. In any case the artist who considers that the taste of the masses is a goal is stultifying his own art. Why ask the opinion of the man in the street at all? One does not ask this man in the street his opinion of good music, one goes to hear it oneself, and forms an opinion of the work on its own merits. So why ask him about sculpture?”.

Epstein’s work did seem to generate very divided and strong opinions, one of his works in Hyde Park was tarred and feathered soon after installation.

As a compromise to let the Night and Day statues remain, Epstein did remove 1.5 inches from his statue “Day” shown below:

55 Broadway

In addition to these two main features, there were other sculptures with the theme of the four winds.

West Wind by Henry Moore:

55 Broadway

South Wind by Eric Gill:

55 Broadway

North Wind by Eric Gill:

55 Broadway

West Wind by Samuel Rabinovitch:

55 Broadway

North Wind by Alfred Gerrard:

55 Broadway

East Wind by Allan Wyon:

55 Broadway

There are also a couple of unusual foundation stones, laid by a long standing employee:

55 Broadway

And by one of the foreman stonemasons employed on the construction of 55 Broadway:

55 Broadway

On entering the ground floor reception of the building there is an original Train Interval indicator. The information on the central panel reads “The passing of a train at a given point on each Underground Railway causes a stroke to be marked on the dial of the clock. These strokes therefore indicate the number of trains run in each hour.”

There is a clock display for the District, Metropolitan, Central, Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Northern Lines. 

55 Broadway

The interior of 55 Broadway retains many of the original features. Wood frame doors with glass panels leading off each lift lobby to the office areas.

55 Broadway

View from the lift lobby to the wood paneled Directors corridor:

55 Broadway

The Directors corridor. The Underground Company, along with many other large companies of the time, was very hierarchical and the status of the employee was reflected in their surroundings. The high ceilings and expensive wood paneling of the Directors offices clearly show their status within the company.

55 Broadway

The quality of the workmanship and the cost of the materials is still very apparent after almost 90 years. Note the original brass door handles and the very long door finger plates:

55 Broadway

The largest office on the floor at the end of the corridor:

55 Broadway

Original stairwell features:

55 Broadway

Original lighting feature:

55 Broadway

Looking from the stairs at the doors which lead into the lift lobby, again the original doors. This is the 6th floor as indicated by the number which was needed as each of the floors looks identical.

55 Broadway

Signs from London Underground’s past have been added to the stairwell.

55 Broadway55 Broadway

Even in the stairwell, the level of detail in the tiling indicates the amount of work and money that went into 55 Broadway:

55 Broadway

There are two external levels at the top of the building. The first provides a good view of the tower:

55 Broadway

And the clock:

55 Broadway

But it is from the top of the tower that the best views of London can be found. Here looking towards Westminster with the Shard in the background, London Eye to the left and the towers of the Barbican on the left edge of the photo:

55 Broadway

Around the edge there are panels providing information about the view and the key features to be seen:

55 Broadway

The view at this level allows some of the external features to be seen slightly better than from the ground. Here is one of the original rainwater hoppers which displays the year 1929, but also includes the underground symbol with the large U and D letters that began and ended the uppercase UNDERGROUND with a smaller size of the font used for the letters between the U and D.

55 Broadway

View towards the north-east. The BT Tower on the left across to the Barbican on the right. The green trees of St. James’s Park provide a contrast with the built city.

55 Broadway

On the day of my visit, the weather was overcast with the threat of rain, so the views were rather hazy, but I always find it interesting to look across London from a high point.

The BT Tower with Euston Tower in the background:

55 Broadway

The Ministry of Defence buildings in the foreground and the towers of the Barbican in the background:

55 Broadway

A hazy St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is from these high points that the topography of an area becomes clear. 55 Broadway being close to Victoria and north of the river, you might expect to look along the north of the city to see St. Paul’s, however as can be seen the view is across the south bank of the river and the Royal Festival Hall:

55 Broadway

The London Eye with the towers of the City in the background. The cranes immediately behind the London Eye are constructing the new towers that will soon surround the old Shell Centre tower.

55 Broadway

As a slight diversion from 55 Broadway, the Shell Centre Tower has the most complex scaffolding I believe I have ever seen, stretching from ground to the top of the tower. I walked past the Shell building earlier this past week and took the photo below. No idea what construction work demands this level of scaffolding.

55 Broadway

Yet more cranes, this time round the Battersea Power Station development:

55 Broadway

Towers of existing apartments at Vauxhall:

55 Broadway

The information panels around the top of 55 Broadway’s tower show how quickly the view can change. In this panel looking towards the south-west, a large office block is shown obscuring much of the view:

55 Broadway

The office block is currently being demolished, revealing a view from the top of 55 Broadway which has not been visible for many years, although no doubt an equally high tower will soon be built.

55 Broadway

55 Broadway is an extraordinary building and its design reflects the ambitions of the London Underground in the 1920s and how the Underground was seen as the modern way of travelling across the city.

Transport for London, the current descendant of the 1920s Underground Company are relocating to new headquarters in the Olympic Park, which is understandable given the limitations of a 1920s building for today’s ways of working requiring flexibility of space and a dependency on IT services across the building.

I understand that whilst Grade I listing protects much of the internal and external features and structure of the building, the future use of the building is still uncertain. I suspect, given what typically happens to redundant buildings in central London, the future of 55 Broadway will be either luxury apartments or as a hotel. A sterile and repetitive outcome which will be a waste of such a wonderful building.

The London Transport Museum’s Hidden London tours of 55 Broadway are currently sold out, however if more become available I really recommend taking a tour of this fascinating building.

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Euston Underground Station – The Lost Tunnels

Euston Underground Station – The Lost Tunnels is the name of the latest Hidden London tour by the London Transport Museum, and on a warm Thursday afternoon last week I took the tour and descended beneath Euston station to find a time capsule from the 1960s.

The tour started at the original Euston station of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway. The station is one of Leslie Green’s distinctive station designs and is the red building on the corner of Melton Street and Drummond Street, on the western side of Euston mainline station.

Euston Underground Tunnels 1

The Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway (better known as the Hampstead Tube), was one of two original underground lines serving Euston mainline station, opened in 1907, this line served from Charing Cross to the north of London (Golders Green and Highgate) through Euston Station.

The second of the lines was the City and South London Railway which ran from the City through to Stockwell in south London and extended from the City to Euston in 1907.

Although the two lines were separate and had stations on either side of Euston mainline station, they did agree to building an interconnecting passageway with a ticket hall and lifts to the mainline station platform.

The two separate station buildings were closed on the 30th September 1914 after the two railways were taken under the ownership of the Underground Electric Railways of London with the interconnecting passageway providing access to Euston Station. After work to enlarge some of the tunnels, the lines were combined to become the Northern line, with the two lines running south converging at Euston Underground Station.

Inside the remaining Hampstead Tube station building in Melton Street, mainly now used for air conditioning of the tube system.

Euston Underground Tunnels 2

Euston mainline station was rebuilt in the 1960s and along with the new Victoria line running through Euston, the opportunity was taken to rationalise the various underground passageways and ticket halls for the underground lines terminating at Euston.

The old connecting passageways and ticket hall closed on the 29th April 1962 and it is these passageways that were the subject of the tour.

After a look at the station building in Melton Street, it was then a walk through Euston Station, through the underground ticket hall and down to one of the Northern Line platforms, where at the very end of the platform was a door that led through to the closed passageways.

Through the door at the end of the platform and a series of steps lead upwards. The tiling on the side walls highlights that these were once passenger tunnels rather than service tunnels.

Euston Underground Tunnels 26

At the top of the steps and a long disused tunnel stretches ahead. No longer used by passengers moving between the different underground lines and the station above, now just used for carrying the infrastructure needed to run the transport system.

Euston Underground Tunnels 4

I mentioned at the start of this post, that the tunnels are a time capsule from the 1960s. Apart from the installation of cables, they have not been used since and the advertising posters that lined the walls of the tunnels are still in place. Whilst many have lost sections over the years, the lack of sunlight means that the colours are as vibrant as when they were first pasted on the walls.

Advertising fine furniture from the London Cooperative Society:

Euston Underground Tunnels 5

Posters on the walls include the posters informing passengers of the impending closure of the tunnels on the 29th April 1962:

Euston Underground Tunnels 6

Posters include the original telephone number format when the London area was still part of the dial code:

Euston Underground Tunnels 7

Along the passageway is the original ticket office. This provided passengers passing between the different rail networks with the option of buying tickets as they passed along the interconnecting tunnels.

Euston Underground Tunnels 8

Poster advertising the film West Side Story at the Astoria from the 27th February 1962:

Euston Underground Tunnels 9

Steps to a dead end. It would be interesting to know what is on the other side:

Euston Underground Tunnels 10

More posters:

Euston Underground Tunnels 11

And more posters. The poster in the centre invites you to Meet the Stars and includes names such as Brian Rix, Stratford Johns, Francesca Annis, Maurice Denham and Julie Andrew.

Euston Underground Tunnels 12

Cross tunnels with air conditioning:

Euston Underground Tunnels 13

And a bricked up entrance:

Euston Underground Tunnels 14

Poster advertising Bargain Travel on British Rail. Not sure that with the way ticket prices have changed since the early 1960s you would now get as much “More miles for your money”:

Euston Underground Tunnels 15

The Midland Pullman – a luxury 1st class only train aimed at business travelers between London and Manchester:

Euston Underground Tunnels 16

Advertising poster for Hitchcock’s film Psycho:

Euston Underground Tunnels 17

View along the tunnel:

Euston Underground Tunnels 18

The route up to the mainline station from the original connecting passageways was via lift. Two lifts shafts originally ran to the surface. Looking up one of the lift shafts:

Euston Underground Tunnels 19

As well as the original passenger tunnels that provided connectivity between the underground lines and the surface station, the complex of tunnels includes tunnels to help provide ventilation to the underground system. These tunnels are just the basic construction without any of the flat walkways and wall tiling to be found on the passenger tunnels.

Looking up the tunnel with a limited amount of infill on the floor of the tunnel to provide a walkway:

Euston Underground Tunnels 23

Further up the tunnel:

Euston Underground Tunnels 22

At the top of the tunnel where it runs across the top of the underground platforms below:

Euston Underground Tunnels 21

This is where the holes in the roof of the platforms below provide access to the ventilation tunnels above. If you look up from many of the platforms across the underground system you will see large grills set in the roof above the part of the tunnel where the train runs. It is these grills that lead to ventilation tunnels above. Trains entering and leaving the station help with ventilation by causing a large amount of air movement as they pass through.

The roof of a train and passengers just about to board seen from above the ventilation grill:

Euston Underground Tunnels 20

Back along the tunnels:

Euston Underground Tunnels 24

View back along one of the tunnels. Lots of tools stored along the tunnel edge:

Euston Underground Tunnels 25

Another view along the tunnels

Euston Underground Tunnels 27

And finally at the end of the tour. Looking down the steps to the door leading through to the platform. It was 5pm by the end of the tour, so just the other side of that door is the platform with the start of the evening rush hour in full flow.

Euston Underground Tunnels 3

This is the fifth Hidden London tour by the London Transport Museum that I have been on over the last couple of years and in someways, once you have seen one tunnel you have seen them all, however they are all unique.

They each tell part of the story of how London’s Underground system has evolved over the past hundred plus years. Initially, individual lines often competing with each other, now part of an integrated transport system.

Some, such as these at Euston Underground Station provide a snapshot of the time when they were closed, the walls still covered in the posters that the last passengers would have seen when they last walked these tunnels in April 1962.

The Hidden London tours run by the London Transport Museum are excellent and provide a fascinating view of the old tunnels that run alongside the tunnels that carry thousands of passengers every day.

Tickets for Hidden London tours can be purchase here.

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